Recovering the Kingdom
We head out of Hamilton towards the Maungakawa Hills in the unaccustomed comfort of a nearly-new Renault station wagon. The day is already hot, but our vehicle is filled with cool air. The engine hums obsequiously, and some miracle of mechanics means we seem to float half a metre or so above the thick smooth tar of Gordonton Road. The little grey screen mounted on the dashboard is speaking in a voice which seems to combine the relaxed vowels of antipodean English with the faintly ebullient lilt favoured by receptionists in American hotels and offices.
The landscape of the central Waikato basin might have been designed with the principles of GPS in mind. With its straight, well-signposted roads, regularly-spaced villages, regularly-proportioned farm blocks, and views unobstructed by hills or tall buildings or bush, the area allows for maximum motoring efficiency. Turn right at Highway Extension 1B the mid-Pacific accent tells us, as a picket fence turns into a precisely-trimmed privet hedge. Turn right in 0.2 kilometres. Despite its pedantry, the voice makes its orders sound like suggestions. “I like her”, Skyler’s Dad told us, as he explained how the little grey box works. “She never gets cross, no matter how many mistakes I make.”
But as we head east, beyond the lifestyle blocks and horse studs and garden shop cafes of Surrey-on-the-Waikato and onto Te Miro Road, the landscape begins to malfunction, and the GPS malfunctions along with it. Low, scrub-brown hills block our view of the next village, and beside the road plane trees and oaks turn to maimed macrocarpas and flailing cutty grass. The road itself soon turns to gravel, so that the Renault seems to crash land. The machine on the dashboard has become confused. Recalculate. Recalculate. Turn off Te Miro Road…
We have reached the edge of the Maungakawa Hills, which occupy a roughly triangular area between the towns of Cambridge in the south, Matamata in the east, and Morrinsville in the north, and which rise to a height of fifteen hundred feet. The northern Maungakawas include Te Miro, a block of land which the government in Wellington consolidated in 1916, and awarded, via a widely-contested ballot, to forty solider-settlers – veterans of World War One, and not necessarily adepts at sheep or dairy farming – in 1918. World War One veterans struggled with balloted land in other parts of New Zealand – the soft sliding papa soil of the upper Mokau and Whanganui districts tormented many, and the frosts and isolation of the Hunua and Waitakere Ranges undid others – but Te Miro’s colonists prospered, and were eventually able to raise a school, a sawmill, and a hall.
But these hills had earlier inhabitants, and other names. Ignoring GPS, we follow Te Miro Road around a corner and up a hill covered in scores of basalt boulders. Rocks like these are said to mark an ancient urupa of Ngati Haua, a Tainui people who have made parts of the Maungakawas their base for centuries. Ngati Haua’s great nineteenth century leader Wiremu Tamihana was nicknamed ‘the Kingmaker’ because of the way he helped convince the many peoples of Tainui to support the establishment of the Waikato Kingdom in the middle of the nineteenth century. Tamihana was born on Maungakawa pa, which stood in the north of the range, on its highest peak. In the 1860s some of his followers established a new village near the pa; the settlement was called Rewehetiki, and its centerpiece was a large flour mill with scoria grindstones and a flow of water ensured by an earth dam. The mill at Rewehetiki was only one of dozens created by the Kingites in the 1850s and 1860s, as they exported huge amounts flour and other agricultural products to the Pakeha population of Auckland. In July 1863 the property-speculators and would-be run-holders of Auckland’s upper class got their way, and Governor George Grey launched an invasion of the Waikato Kingdom Wiremu Tamihana had so done much to create. After the forces of King Tawhiao had been bested in battles at Rangiriri, Paterangi, and Orakau, the Ngati Haua retreated south with the other Waikato peoples, into the region of mountains and gorges nowadays known as the King Country.
The conquerors of the Waikato appropriated vast parts of the region, including its tens of thousands of acres of wheat fields and market gardens, but they ignored a few pieces of territory which were hilly, or isolated, or both. The northern part of the Maungakawas remained largely in Maori hands, and when Tawhiao led his people out of exile in the south in 1881 he selected the area as one of the bases from which he might be able to re-establish his influence in the Waikato.
The Maungakawa Hills might seem insignificant, when set beside New Zealand’s many ranges of real mountains, but they lie between the central Waikato basin and the Hauraki Plains, and this context can make them seem almost precipitous. The little peaks of the Maungakawa offered Tawhiao unrestricted views of the fertile lands he had fought for and lost, as well as the flimsy Pakeha fortress towns at Hamilton and Cambridge.
Tawhiao had renounced the use of violence when he crossed the Puniu River at the northern edge of the King Country and entered the conquered Waikato, but he had not abandoned his commitment to Maori nationalism. He demanded the return of confiscated territory, and particularly of Ngaruawahia, the capital and spiritual centre of the Kingdom he had defended in 1863. In the northern Maungakawas and in other fragments of his old domain, Tawhiao strove to rebuild the sort of nationalist institutions which had characterised the Waikato Kingdom.
One of the smaller, less-publicised exhibits in Never a Dull Moment, the rather sanguine retrospective of Hamilton history which the Waikato museum has been holding for months, is a bank note as delicate and as elaborately patterned as a tropical butterfly. Using red, yellow, green, blue, and black ink, covered in baroque abstract patterns as well as tiny drawings of a flax plant and a cross-shaped flower, and featuring the slogan ‘Whaimana ana tenei moni ki nga tangata’ (‘This money is valid for all people’), the kotahi pauna (one pound) note was issued by Te Peeke o Aotearoa (the Bank of Aotearoa) in the name of ‘Tawhiao, Kingi’. A caption tells museum visitors that the note was printed ‘in the 1860s’; in fact, it was produced decades later. In ‘Te Peeke o Aotearoa: the Bank of King Tawhiao’, an essay he published in the Journal of New Zealand History in 1992, Stuart Park reveals that the Kingitanga’s bank was founded in the second half of the 1880s, and operated at Rewehetiki in the northern Maungakawas. (Tawhiao’s bank also had branches at Maungatautari, the mountain which rises south of the Maungakawas, on the far side of Cambridge and the Waikato River, and at Perewera, a settlement south of Te Awamutu.)
As well as hosting Te Peeke o Aotearoa, Rewehetiki became the site, in the early nineties, of Te Kauhanganui, the parliament of the Kingite movement, and of the printing press which produced Te Paki o Matariki (The Girdle of Pleiades), the official newspaper of the movement. The functions of these institutions were carefully connected. Te Kauhanganui passed laws and levied taxes, Te Paki o Matariki made these laws and taxes known to Tawhiao’s still-scattered followers, and Te Peeki o Aotearoa was a place where the income the King received from levies and fines and the like could be stored.
Tawhiao never sought a charter for his bank from bureaucrats in Wellington, and his parliament proclaimed the absolute independence of his fractured kingdom. Pakeha hunters who visited the forested hilltops and gullies of the northern Maungakawas were confronted by Tawhiao’s policemen, and asked to pay a small tax in return for shooting at the king’s pigs. When Pakeha authorities attempted to impose a hated tax on Maori-owned dogs at the end of the nineteenth century, the Kingites denied the legitimacy of the levy, and appointed the chief Te Mete Raukawa ‘Registrar of Dogs’ for their kingdom. Kingites were jailed for registering their dogs with Raukawa, rather than with Pakeha authorities.
Tawhiao’s propensity for independence extended to metaphysics: sceptical of the entreaties of Papist and Wesleyan missionaries, and angrily aware of the blessing that August Selwyn, the megalomaniacal father of New Zealand Anglicanism, had given to the invasion of the Waikato in 1863, the King established his own official religion by developing the heretical mixture of Christianity and traditional Maori belief promulgated by the Taranaki prophet Te Ua in the 1860s.
Near Te Miro Hall the road seems to lose confidence, and splits in three directions. The long, low, bush-stained slopes of hills slide away to the east and to the south. We are a couple of kilometers from Rewehetiki, which is nowadays a set of hummocks in a corner of a sheep and dairy farm run by the Muirhead family. In 1898 a burn-off by a Pakeha farmer got out of control, and a wind blew the flames into Te Kauhanganui. Apart from a carved pou edged with ash which is nowadays displayed at the Waikato museum, the parliament was destroyed. A few cheques issued by Te Peeki o Aotearoa were found amongst the rubble of Te Kauhanganui by a teenage Pakeha girl sometime early in the twentieth century, and in 1958 the Muirhead family pulled the printing press which produced Te Paki o Matariki from a gully, and gifted it to the Cambridge Historical Society.
Even before the loss of Te Kauhanganui the Rewehetiki settlement had been in decline, as the attention of Tawhiao and his successor Mahuta turned to other parts of the Waikato. Some sources blame a 1895 influenza epidemic for the emptying of Rewehetiki, but Stuart Park argues that Tawhiao and Mahuta were wary of the site’s close association with Ngati Haua, and of the power of Wiremu Tamihana’s son Tupu Taingakawa, who had been elected President of the Waikato Kingdom at Te Kauhanganui in the early 1890s. In 1912 Taingakawa established a new Kingite parliament at Rukumoana, a Ngati Haua marae outside Morrinsville, at the northern edge of the Maungakawas, but King Mahuta seldom visited it. The building, which also bore the name Te Kauhanganui, was nevertheless used occasionally until 1944, when a parliament was created in Ngaruawahia, the ancient capital Princess Te Puea and her followers had resettled after World War One.
I type REWEHETIKI into the GPS machine, and receive the inevitable answer. Location not recognised. Reselect. The little grey box on our dashboard may not be interested, but the stronghold Tawhiao established in the 1880s deserves to be remembered. Rewehetiki may seem a marginal, historically irrelevant place, but it reinforces a crucial lesson about Maori history which most Pakeha are yet to learn.
For the first half of the twentieth century, commentators and historians generally held the view that Maori had suffered a ‘savage decline’ in the decades after the wars of the 1860s. Devastated on the battlefield, deprived of land and mana, and cursed by influenza, smallpox, and gin, Maori became a marginalised, degraded people, who were only saved from extinction by the insistence of ‘modernisers’ like Apirana Ngata that they enter the mainstream of Pakeha life. Keith Sinclair challenged the ‘savage decline’ thesis in the 1960s, pointing out that institutions like Kingitanga survived the wars, and continued to press for Maori autonomy. Many scholars have amplified Sinclair’s points about post-war survival, and James Belich has shown that the wars themselves were not anywhere near as one-sided as commentators and historians once imagined. Despite all these scholarly labours, though, the ‘savage decline’ thesis remains popular amongst the Pakeha public. Maori are still widely viewed as a defeated people, who in the aftermath of the 1860s abandoned any idea of separate development, let alone independence, and gratefully accepted Pakeha hegemony. The Treaty process of recent decades and features of biculturalism like Maori language programmes have been treated as symptoms of a ‘politically correct’ conspiracy of liberal Pakeha intellectuals and a handful of foreign-backed Maori ‘radicals’, rather than as the latest chapter in an uninterrupted history of a Maori push for autonomy and separate development.
The story of Tawhiao’s restoration of his sovereignty in the northern Maungakawas in the 1880s mocks the old thesis of Maori acceptance of Pakeha hegemony. Decades after the Kingitanga was supposedly irrevocably defeated at Paterangi and Orakau, Tawhiao and his followers emerged from their exile in the south and took up residence in these hills and in other fragments of the old kingdom, establishing a set of institutions – a bank, a currency, a police force, a parliament – which represented, together, a concerted symbolic attack on the authority of the settler state. Rewehetiki may have been abandoned, but new footholds were established elsewhere, further north, and ultimately the Kingitanga returned to their old capital at Ngaruawahia.
At the same time that Tawhiao was making the northern Maungakawas into a base for the advance of his movement, a hill at the southern end of the range was becoming a strange monument to settler capitalism. In 1868 Daniel Thornton, a Briton whose family had become wealthy building wool mills in Russia, purchased four thousand hectares of the Maungakawas with the intention of growing wheat. Thornton died suddenly on a business trip to Russia, but his widow and children chose to stay in the Maungakawas, and in 1890 they built a rambling faux-Tudor mansion on the summit of Pukemako, a thirteen-hundred foot high hill overlooking Cambridge. Walnut trees, magnolias, bamboo, and scores of other exotic species filled the garden which sprawled down the hill from the Thornton home.
In 1903 the cautiously progressive government of Richard Seddon bought the Thornton mansion and its chaotic grounds, and established New Zealand’s first tuberculosis sanatorium at Pukemako. The mansion became a series of dormitories, and cribs were built for additional patients on the slopes of the hill. During World War One, the consumptives did their bit for queen and country by surrendering their magic mountain to the army, which used it to house damaged veterans of the Western Front. In 1922 the sanatorium closed. Most of its buildings were demolished or removed, and all attempts to control the garden the Thorntons had fomented were abandoned. We follow a narrowing road up Pukemako. Elderly macrocarpas and magnolias wheeze and shiver on either side of the gravel, blocking views of the plains and turning the sunlight a rotten shade of green. We park beside a ruined storehouse covered in curiously chaste graffiti. JESUS LOVES YOU, one visitor has scratched; NOTHING IS AS OLD AS YESTERDAY, another has mused. The foundations of other buildings have been softened by marram grass; the fireplace of a long-demolished crib is coated in ashes, and smells faintly of pork sausages. I walk away from these ruins, into the garden liberated in 1922, but a thicket of embracing camellia bushes soon blocks my way. When I poke at one of the overgrown shrubs a huge red eye weeps a rotting petal. After wriggling through the shrubbery like a dog, I emerge to a view of the Waikato basin – of a gravel-coloured river, and black shining roads, and hay bales sprinkled about like lego bricks, and glasshouse windows winking in the sun – which is so detailed, so apparently exhaustive, that it feels panoptic rather than majestic. Closer to the summit, a walnut tree of extravagant dimensions stands beside a karaka covered in lichen as thick and silvery as tin foil wrapper. An expensive-looking signboard introduces Pukemako as ‘Sanatorium Hill’, and explains that benevolent organisations like the Cambridge Rotary Club and the Cambridge Lions have sought to honour the site by adorning it with picnic tables, and by cutting a track through the bush on its southern slope. I head down the track, and find raiders from the wild garden – walnut trees, and camellias and rhododendrons, and bamboo stalks with sharp splintered ends – dominating its edges, with natives lurking back in the gloom, behind impregnable layers of rata vine. As the track drops lower, though, the exotics disappear, and karaka and manuka and puriri step forward. Perhaps here, too, a kingdom is being recovered.